The city of Amsterdam is, together with partners, building the biggest iBeacon Lab. As part of the Smart City initiative, beacons will literally become an integral part of the city. At first, we will build the iBeacon Mile, and install 60 beacons going from the central station of Amsterdam to the Scheepvaart Museum (Nautical Museum) and former marine base (Marine Terrein), slightly more than 3,4 kilometers in distance. Apart from Yenlo, other (complementary) partners are for instance the City of Amsterdam, Glimworm Beacons, KPN (LoRAWAN) and JC Decaux (bus and tram stop advertising).
To ask the question is to answer it. iBeacons are small radio devices (based on a standard developed by Apple) that send out a simple signal (Bluetooth Low Energy) that can be picked up by nearby smartphones. Beacons allow for a much more precise determination of location (from 80 or so meters to less than 50 centimeters) enabling a new level of location based services both indoors and outdoors.
Recently, standardization body ISO together with stakeholders defined the concept of a smart city.
The applications are not only in retail. Museums and other cultural heritage organizations, advertising (billboards), payments (linking to the location of the person paying) and navigation are possibilities. Furthermore, beacons are relatively cheap (about EUR 30) and will operate on a battery. It’s small size makes it possible to let beacons blend in with the background or even be invisible. Because it is not about the beacons, but what you do with it.
How do beacons work?
A beacons sends out a signal that can be picked up by a smartphone. If more beacons are available the smartphone will receive signals from all beacons (when they are in range) with an indication of proximity so we can determine the one that is closest by. Beacons are fixed in most cases but also can be mobile. Based on the signal we receive / are listening to we can determine where we are and what is nearby. In order to make that possible we are creating a solution to open up the beacons to developers by offering a set of public API’s.
In the iBeacon Mile we use several WSO2 products to make this possible. The choice for WSO2 was really because of the open source nature of the products, the scalability and easy of use.
Yenlo is responsible for the development of the APIs that open the ibeacon network. At this moment we use the following three WSO2 products in our setup.
The API Manager is the front (of façade) that will offer the API’s to developers using the API Store. The API Publisher is used to manage the lifecycle of API’s (from creation to retirement of the API) and make them available. The community functionality of the API Manager gives to opportunity to engage the developers and involve them in the project. Their input will strengthen the project.
The API’s that we develop are reasonably limited. Basically they will retrieve longitude / latitude information, points of interest (POIs) nearby and so on. The developers using the APIs will integrate it in their applications. These applications can give out a coupon for a two for one offer of drinks in a bar, show historical pictures or videos relating to that location and so on. Like this example showing Amsterdam Central Station.
The number of beacons is limited, from an initial 60 to several thousand next year. The same goes for the points of interested related to the beacons. Even if this runs in the tens of thousands, this is a reasonable small dataset.
We were looking for a solution that could help us create the API’s in a simple way. The WSO2 Data Services Server enables to expose regular database CRUD operations as API’s. Getting information about a beacon is in essence, now simply a query to the database, wrapped in or exposed as API.
Together with the API manager we have a total solution for supplying the required data in a simple way (restful APIs). At a later stage we can also add the WSO2 ESB if we need more advanced features or transformations. The API Manager is based on the ESB but it is recommended to use the full ESB product when you want to work with Enterprise Integration Patterns. The WSO2 Business Activity Monitor (not shown in this overview) collects and analyzes the data and traffic from the API Manager (invocations and so on).
The ESB will be placed between the API Manager and the Data Services Server.
The whole project will be ready in 2016, hopefully having over 2500 beacons in place in Amsterdam, among others in parks, bus stops, public places et cetera. This will be the biggest iBeacon living lab in the world.
Benefits of the solution
The benefits of the chosen solution is that it is a good fit for this purpose. The API Manager enables to reach a group of external developers yet giving the required control (in terms of lifecycle management and for instance throttling, limiting the number of calls to the API per minute). The ability to monetize usage of API’s (using the WSO2 Business Activity Monitor) is another benefit that might be required in the future. With the scalability of WSO2 we can grow the Beacon network far beyond the currently proposed numbers.